I’ve lived nearly all my life thinking that a 40-hour work week is normal. Anything more than that feels “hardworking” but also stressful and anxiety-inducing. Anything less than that sounds lazy and entitled. But rationally, I know that there isn’t a predetermined number of hours that humans are biologically designed to work. This is because I went up to fourth grade in Korea, where I was born, and at that time their schools were open from Monday to Saturday. Even as an elementary school student, I went to a half day of school on Saturday. The only morning I completely had off was Sunday! As an adult, I now think that this education system was to mirror the parents’ work schedules, for they too worked on Saturdays.
The point is, I didn’t question going to school on a Saturday. When I moved to the U.S., a similar amount of learning was accomplished in just five days a week. And although Korean students still put in more hours at school than do American students, I don’t think the amount of education really varies that much. And even though at first I thought getting Saturday off was a bit “odd,” that lasted about 2 seconds before I began to fiercely believe it as my birthright. In other words, we humans get quickly used to having an extra day off!
A Study Using the Largest 32-Hour Work Week Pilot Program Ever
The U.S. adopted the now-ubiquitous 40-hour work week in the 1920s, in large part due to Henry Ford’s policies at his company. In 2023, we seem to have arrived at another inflection point where society determines another day-off would benefit everyone. A new study by the University of Cambridge found that a 20% reduction of work hours (from 40 to 32) with same pay led to significant drop in stress, sick days, and job changes. Workers also reported feeling a greater work-life balance, improved physical and mental health, and reduced stress, anxiety, and fatigue. 71% of employees said they felt less burnout.
Although employees got more personal time, productivity remained the same and company earnings even improved slightly. People canceled long and ineffective meetings, reduced their own distractions, and adopted time-saving technology and processes. The results were so remarkable that 92% of the companies that participated in this pilot program said they wanted to keep the 4-day work week.
This isn’t just limited to pilot programs. Microsoft Japan, Unilever New Zealand, Ecosia, Buffer, Coffee Meets Bagel, and Kickstarter are some global names who have already adopted the 4-day work week. Even Amazon is doing a pilot program to take Friday off. Check out this list of 4-day work week companies for some job search inspiration! Governments in Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Belgium, Scotland, and Ontario are also changing to 4-day work week. Joe O’Connor of Work Time Reduction Center tells BBC that “by 2026, not offering a four-day week is almost a competitive disadvantage.”
If you work for one of these progressive companies and organizations, congratulations! Here are other ways to make the 32-hour work week your reality.
32-Hour Work Week in Practice, wherever you work
- If your organization is firmly 40-hour work week, advocate for work from home one or more days a week. Remember, the best time to argue for your benefits is before you get a job, during the negotiation process. But you can also speak up while working. Tip: When you’re asking for something from work, make it about not just you, but mutual benefit. (“Our company will run more efficiently and generate better revenues…”)
- Try to put all your meetings in one (or two) days of the week when you have to go into the office. Remember, this also saves commute time and emissions, and plus times before and after meetings are rarely spent productively on quiet tasks.
- In the morning, write down everything you have to accomplish that day and stay focused on your tasks until they are finished.
- Do your “deep thinking” tasks separately, preferably not on days when you’re also doing administrative tasks or meetings.
- If you work for yourself, the first step to doing the 32-hour work week is to give yourself permission. Allow yourself to not be working around the clock. Create boundaries between work and personal life so you don’t burnout. Remember, working too much actually decreases your cognitive abilities including vocabulary and reasoning, according to this study that compared 55-hour workers v. 40-hour workers.
- Write emails in a batch, instead of throughout the day. Have a template for the types of emails you use often.
- When you log off, really log off. Turn your phone off, go for a hike, do something meaningful besides waiting anxiously for more work. Don’t even look at social media—which so easily turns into, “I’ll just check my email once.”
“When you realize that day has allowed you to be relaxed and rested, and ready to absolutely go for it on those other four days, you start to realize that to go back to working on a Friday would feel really wrong—stupid actually,” said one of the CEOs of the participating companies. As someone who went from the six-day work week to the five-day one, I can definitely agree.
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Photo: Roman Bozhko via Unsplash